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YouTube Is the Way to Attract Younger Audiences to Wine

Meiningers – 4 May 2024

Brendan Carter can’t understand why so many wine professionals are ignoring YouTube. He tells Felicity Carter how he built his own Wine for the People channel.

Brendan Carter thinks the word ‘ethereal’ is one of the dumbest words in wine.

While studying, he “grabbed every single tasting note,” from a year’s worth of a top wine publication, “wrote them out one by one, put them in an Excel spreadsheet and fed it into Chat-GPT to find out what the most common terms were.”

The top three terms were ‘ethereal’, ‘juicy’ and ‘expressive’, none of which Carter thinks are helpful. Worse, he thinks wine writing is irrelevant to a younger audience. Not because of the vocabulary —  be warned: this next bit will horrify wine writers everywhere — but because younger people are sceptical about the written word.

The wine industry is ignoring video, which is where the next generation is congregating.

“People can hide behind words,” he says, while individual personalities who can be seen and heard are seen as inherently more trustworthy.

Carter is speaking from his purple-lit YouTube studio in the Adelaide Hills. He’s baffled that the wine industry is ignoring video, which is where the next generation is congregating.

From Champagne to the Adelaide Hills

When Carter was a law student, he got a holiday job giving English-speaking tours at Veuve Clicquot in Champagne. Winemaker Francois Chirumberro suggested he study winemaking.

“It was news to me that you could do a whole university degree in booze,” says Carter.

He enrolled at Adelaide University, right when the strong Australian dollar was causing wine exports to plummet.

At the same time, the world of wine had never been more exciting, as a new generation of hands-off winemakers was rising: Anton von Klopper, James Erskine, Tom Shobbrook, and the late Sam Hughes.

“They were allowed to take us for a class for one of our organoleptic sessions,” says Carter, so “we all started to “questioned everything we were taught.”

In a country renowned for international varieties like Shiraz, Carter began to consider the grapes of the Mediterranean. While they are grown across Australia, they are particularly found in the Riverland — the warm, irrigated inland region — because cheap land and abundant water makes it the ideal place to trial new varieties. In Carter’s opinion, these grapes are the future for Australia.

Bootstrapping a winery

While still a student, Carter and wife Laura founded a low-intervention wine brand, Unico Zelo. “We had nothing to lose and didn’t own much, so we started the winery.”

He did it by opening his laptop and trawling auction sites while sitting in lectures, which he’d record on his phone and listen to later. “My first pump came from a detergent manufacturing facility that had used it for six years and I got it for A$30.”

Later, Carter and Laura headed for the Adelaide Hills where they could afford a house, near the Onkaparinga Woollen Mill. Owned by the Adelaide HIlls Council, the Mill included a unit that was supposed to incubate small businesses, but “ten years later, had not incubated a single one. So I let them know that we were a business worth incubating.”

Unico Zelo got a year rent free in an old building with a dirt floor. At the end of the year, the Carters wrote an open letter to the industry asking for a place to put their equipment and do vintage. A grower offered them a lease-to-buy deal. “We built a house of panels using a fork-lift, a wrench and a circular saw,” says Carter. “We lived in that for five years, while we developed the winery piece by piece.”

They also opened a distillery. Carter says his business is based on permaculture principles, where every plant in an ecosystem supports the other plants. The idea was that if the wine didn’t sell, it could be distilled and sold as a different product.

Another idea was to create a grape growers’ cooperative. Carter says that when grape growers are paid directly for grapes, the value of the grapes is locked in and “someone has to apply margin. What if there was no transaction?”

Instead, the Carters decided to recognise the value of the grapes by giving 50% of the wine’s profit back to the growers. “We’re selling wine at A$20 (€12.30) a bottle, which is not that expensive, and then delivering 50% of the money back to the growers.”

The growers ended up with “about 400% more” money than normal. “We didn’t realise that growers get paid horrendously in this country.”

Today, growers in the crisis-hit Riverland where the Carters source much of their fruit can earn as little as A$120 a tonne, well below the cost of production. “That was when we realised there was a systemic problem here. And then the distillery started to grow as well.” 

Success with gin and wine

Applewood Distillery’s gins are distilled with native Australian ingredients. “I could give you a list of about 80 different ones we work with,” says Carter. “The predominant one would be the desert lime, Citrus glauca. It’s probably the most ancient lime we know of. It originates in the deserts and grows on less than two inches of rain a year.”

The Carters started making gin in 2012, “before it was cool. We were number five in Australia making gin and now there’s like 600 of us.” Today, they sell their products in the US, the UK and Japan, among other export markets.

As for their wines, Unico Zelo is flying off the shelf, an acknowledged success from a region in the doldrums. The labels are simple and colourful and don’t reveal the varieties in the bottle. Instead, the focus is on the names —  ‘Esoterica’, a skin contact white, and ‘Fresh A.F.’, a blend of Nero d’Avola and Zibibbo — so drinkers can’t bring preconceptions to the glass.

The end of wine writing?

Carter says he’s not a very good communicator, which became a problem as the business grew, particularly when trying to get things designed. “I did all the things you’re meant to do — a Pinterest board, all those things,” but somehow people just couldn’t understand what he wanted.

Carter bought a camera and watched thousands of hours of photography tutorials on YouTube. “Then I went and took a photo and said, ‘I want it to look like that’ and they’re like, ‘why didn’t you say so?’” He got what he wanted.

“The penny dropped and I was like, ‘oh man, when people say a picture’s worth a thousand words, I didn’t realise it meant that it saved me from having to say a thousand words’. It lifted a weight off my shoulders.”

One obsession led to another, and Unico Zelo started producing videos during Covid, doing daily vlogs and “stuff like that, to show behind the scenes.” Two hundred “practice runs” later, and the Wine For the Peoplechannel launched on YouTube. It’s a mix of wine reviews, interviews, and wine education, all delivered with an irreverent edge.

If the wine trade doesn’t bother speaking to the $5 a bottle drinkers, how can we expect them to become $10 a bottle drinkers? 

At first, hardly anybody watched. This is typical for YouTube, where creators report slogging along, unappreciated for a long time. If they persevere—assuming they’re any good— there comes a moment when the views begin to grow exponentially. “It’s taken maybe three or four years of grinding before it started to take off,” says Carter. Now, the channel is growing at 400%.

Carter believes YouTube is the ideal medium to attract drinkers who currently drink at the very commercial end. He says if the wine trade doesn’t bother speaking to the $5 a bottle drinkers, “how can we expect them to become $10 a bottle drinkers? This is folly — you can’t just ignore them.”

But he also thinks the wine trade is courting disaster by ignoring YouTube and relying on wine writing and Instagram influencers, because YouTube is where the coveted younger demographics congregate.

In a rare interview, Matthew Horkey tells us what skills you need to be successful, how he engages with the platform and why wine is the next big thing on YouTube.

The kids are on YouTube

According to SproutSocial, “Users aged between 25 and 34 account for 21.3% of YouTube’s user base, making them the largest age group to use the platform. The second largest age group is between ages 35 and 44.” YouTube also appeals to those between 18 and 24, “with this group making up 15.5% of the platform’s user base”.

YouTube has 2.49 billion monthly users worldwide—100 million of whom are paying subscribers. And, in the US at least, the younger the viewers, the more they prefer video to books; nearly 60% of those in the GenZ cohort prefer learning from YouTube over books.

But too few wine people are on YouTube, so the chances of younger people stumbling over interesting wine content is low.

Carter adds that YouTube engages people much more than Instagram, which he calls “low involvement — they’re only looking for aesthetics. They’ll change topics really quickly.”

But too few wine people are on YouTube, with a few notable exceptions like Konstantin Baum MW, so the chances of younger people stumbling over interesting wine content is low. Worse, when wineries or regions do make an effort, they tend to produce glossy promotional videos, instead of the fun and authentic content that engages viewers. 

The best time to get started on YouTube is now

Darren Oemke, the Chair of Riverland Wine, says the Carters have found a way to engage with both trade and consumers, and do it well, and says it’s obvious they’ve built a big following, judging by how many distributors will take the opportunity at trade shows and tastings to introduce customers.

“He and Laura have a focus on building their customer base through YouTube, engagement with trade, restaurant collabs and a laser-like focus on their specific approach to winemaking style,” says Oemke.

The Australian wine industry has also taken note, and showered them with awards for their ability to engage consumers.

But creating excellent YouTube content is not, it has to be said, either easy or cheap.

Carter says “Laura hates it. She’s like ‘Brendan, we have to stop spending money like this’ — we added up all the money we’ve spent and it’s maybe A$300,000 (€182,000). It’s a lot of money.”

The money went into the fully-equipped studio he’s sitting in and wages, plus buying wines to review. Carter says they don’t accept samples of wines, because they want the right to criticise a wine, and then say, “hey, we spent our own money on it”.

He says he hopes more wine people will jump in and open a channel on YouTube. And he adds it doesn’t have to be expensive, because you can start making videos with your phone.

‘Times are changing, and so are the productivity demands,” says Carter. “We’ve found an answer — it’s called video.”

And not using the word ethereal.

 

 How to Make Your Winery More Social
Beverage Trade Network

Facebook, Instagram and Twitter continue to unveil new features that can be used by wineries, breweries and distilleries to bring awareness of their wines, brews and spirits to a national audience

Social media has completely transformed the way wineries market themselves, with more and more wineries experimenting with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as ways to reach a larger wine-drinking audience. But it’s no longer enough just to be on Facebook or Instagram, you now have to find ways to update your social media presence to leverage all the new features that are available.

Facebook Live

For example, one popular new trend on social media is live streaming events via features like Facebook Live. Hosting a Facebook Livestream is a fantastic way to introduce wine drinkers to the winemakers behind the brand as well as to give a behind-the-scenes look at how a wine goes from the vineyard to your table.

Live streaming has started to take off at food & wine festivals, where it’s a great way to engage both participants and people from across the country that would have liked to attend. This summer’s Aspen Food & Wine Festival, for example, featured celebrity chefs as part of a “live from the kitchen” feature. And some wineries, such as City Winery, have hosted Facebook live streams of performers and entertainers who have appeared as part of special events.

For now, media publications that cover the wine industry, such as Food & Wine, are leading the way when it comes to using Facebook to live stream an event. The advantage a major media publication has over a winery is the built-in audience. After all, anyone can hold up a mobile phone, click the Facebook Live button, and start a live broadcast – but if only a handful of people tune in, and the production quality is not very high, is it really worth the effort? In contrast, major media brands can attract tens of thousands of potential viewers.

Instagram Stories

Another important social media trend is Instagram Stories, which launched in August 2016. This feature gives brands the opportunity to combine a number of photos or video clips into a “story” that can be viewed online by followers of the brand. The important point here is that any Story disappears after a 24-hour period, essentially giving the brand a “clean slate” the next day. And the Stories won’t appear within the regular Instagram feed – they are only visible if you are a follower and click on the profile of the Instagram user, where the profile will be outlined with a colourful circle if a new Story exists.

These Instagram Stories can be used to show unique behind-the-scenes photos of the winery, to showcase special new promotions, or to answer questions from fans in a fun, casual way. One trending hashtag on social media is #WineWednesday, so you could very easily plan to launch a new Instagram Story every Wednesday and include the #WineWednesday hashtag when you promote it to fans.

A few wineries have already experimented with this features. Jordan Winery in Sonoma, California posts new Stories, usually related to food, wine and travel. Travel Oregon, as part of an effort to promote Oregon wineries, has posted Stories from the state’s wineries. And, within the spirits industry, Ketel One was an early adopter, using Stories to describe new drink recipes.

Twitter Moments

These are events curated and compiled by Twitter to show users everything that is current and trending in the globe at any given time. It is like one’s social news feed. One can select from categories like News, Sports, Entertainment, Fun and more.

So far Twitter has primarily been about the 140 character text. Creating a Twitter Moment offers the user a chance to highlight an image as well. A Twitter Moment is displayed with a focus on the image more than the text as it is also displayed in a larger size.

A recent Twitter Moment reported that red wine and hot chocolate is a hot trend. Winemakers could tap into this by showing recipes of how to create this using their wine. Many companies also use cultural days, events and hashtags around these to associate their brand with them. Being part of a popular hashtag lets your tweets come up in search results. But, be sure to be relevant as you create these.

The important point to keep in mind is that all of these new social media initiatives cannot exist in separate silos. It’s best to integrate them, and one easy way to do that is via email. For example, you can promote an upcoming Facebook Live event in the email newsletter that you send out every month (e.g. “Join us next month as we interview two winemakers at our winery”). Or, you can include a link to your Instagram page, with a call-to-action to check out your new Stories (e.g. “Check out our latest Instagram Story for more on our new Pinot Noir”)

As a winery, you need to be where your customers are. And as more people embrace Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it means finding ways to connect with them in new and unique ways.  In 2017, that means an embrace of Facebook Live, Instagram Stories and Twitter Moments.

An Honest Conversation About Making Money in Wine

April 25, 2024

Areni Global’s latest roundtable tackled the important topic of financial sustainability in the wine industry. It attracted fine wine producers from top regions in France, the USA and South Africa, who took the opportunity to have a frank discussion.

To look around the Zoom faces was to wonder why some of the participants had agreed to speak openly about money. All of them represented some of the most famous names in wine—meaning it’s hard to imagine that profitability was an issue for them.

But, it turned out, it truly is, and the full and frank discussion of money turned into one of the most intensive and engaged discussions that Areni Global has been privileged to host in recent months.

The roundtable was conducted under the Chatham House rule, which means everything that was said is unattributed. The only person whose quotes are attributed was the guest of honour, Mike Ratcliffe. He’s not just the co-founder and managing partner of the US/South African venture Vilafonté, but also the founder of Wine Business Advisors, an international advisory service that has helped more than 50 wine clients with everything from tourism and hospitality to sales and mergers and acquisitions.

First and most important

Ratcliffe began by saying that “lack of financial sustainability usually runs parallel with lack of strategy and, more often than not, runs parallel with a lack of focus.”

People who know what they want to achieve have a greater likelihood of achieving it, he said. “You all know the wine industry. Everybody tries to do everything. Everybody wants to be in the tourism business.” And everybody wants to make red wine, white wine, sparkling wine and sweet wine. But “there seems to be a common denominator of financial success amongst the people who have identified at least some form of specialty.”

Unfortunately, too many wine businesses take a scattergun approach. “Something I see way too often is where everybody’s just doing everything. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if you have a winery, you have to have a restaurant, and you need to be selling an entire range and three tiers, That works well for big companies,” he went on, “but in general it’s just fragmentation and it takes you in the opposite direction. You lose economies of scale and your sustainability becomes affected.”

“Something I see way too often is where everybody’s just doing everything. There seems to be an unwritten rule that if you have a winery, you have to have a restaurant, and you need to be selling an entire range and three tiers.”

Mike Ratcliffe, Vilafonté

For most businesses, it’s easier to market a few products than many. It’s also easier to sell a known brand. “Brands are powerful. Brands tend to get bigger and have economies of scale,” he said. Instead, said Ratcliffe, he often saw producers adding new wines to their portfolio, without having a strategy to sell that wine.

Some of the Bordelais on the call agreed that they found it easier to produce just one or two wines per winery. “That’s one of our strengths,” said one producer. “Every winery builds its own individual identity, independent from the appellation.”

But one French producer had a different point of view, saying “a small range of products is not a terribly good idea for us because we have a top wine which is very expensive—if we didn’t have other wines that were less expensive, we would have trouble selling the top wine.”

And, of course, diversification of income is a good strategy provided all the parts of the business are properly resourced and managed. “Almost half of our turnover is the restaurant, guest rooms and wine bar,” said the producer. “The New World is far ahead of us in that respect.”

The Old World is ahead in other ways

According to one US producer, “the realities are pretty harsh at the moment. Most wineries in the US are under 5,000 cases—most producers are tiny. That’s a different reality set. Profitability is almost unheard of.”

In the past, many US founders were able to simply write cheques to cover the winery’s needs, because their real income was drawn from some other enterprise; their wine business was more of a passion project. The issue now is the younger people taking over those businesses need the winery to work as a business in its own right. “They’re not thinking about writing cheques to other people to do the work.”

He said that it’s normal in France or Italy for the entire family to be working in the winery. “That’s really rare here on the West coast of America. But the young people are kind of getting it—they’re looking to Europe for those types of models. That’s a really strong trend I’m seeing.”

Desirability is a form of power

Sometimes the goal of a winery owner isn’t to build profitability but reputation. “For us, image is more important than profitability in the short term,” said a French producer. “The question of what money we need to make is secondary—who do we want to be? Which markets do we want to be seen in?”

The producer was clear that money was still an important goal, but in the service of building the prestige and position of the brand. One reason it’s important to build brands is because having a strong and desirable name offers some protection against being undercut on price. Unfortunately, as many ruefully agreed, very few producers are able to dictate the price of their wine.

“For us, image is more important than profitability in the short term. The question of what money we need to make is secondary—who do we want to be? Which markets do we want to be seen in?”

Areni Member

“The wine world is full of very powerful gatekeepers,” said one producer. “There are 90 producers right behind us who would be very willing to sell their wares if we were to have an issue with price.”

In other words, most producers don’t have a say in the price at which their wines will be sold. In this case, the winery needs to know exactly where its wine sits in the marketplace, so they can work out how much it will be sold for and calculate all the costs properly.

Keep on top of the numbers

What is striking about financially sustainable businesses, said Ratcliffe, is that they tend to have a solid understanding of numbers. “Profitability is an outcome of financial sustainability.”

Ratcliffe added that it’s important to keep people inside the company informed of the financial position. “If you have a meeting with your management team, show them everything.” And if one department is overspending, other members of the team should be able to say something about it.

Everyone on the call agreed with Ratcliffe that it’s extremely important to stay on top of the numbers—and to react immediately when people don’t pay their bills.

“Don’t work with people who are not able to pay,” said a producer, who said he insists on being paid upfront when working with new customers. After that, he allows payment terms of up to 60 days. If the customer’s payment is ever late, he stops working with them immediately, though he said he had made special arrangements during Covid.

Ratcliffe agreed that the first signal of business distress is generally delayed payments, and to take unpaid bills seriously.

He added that good customers should always be rewarded. “When somebody does something good for you, always give them a gift. A bottle of wine. There will come a time when you need them,” especially when times are tough. “There have been times when I’ve had to call one of my suppliers and say, ‘can you give me three or four extra days to pay?’ and because there’s a good working relationship, they’re always fine.”

Relationships are everything

“Try and do business with people that you like,” said Ratcliffe. “The other one is try to do business in places that you like.”

As one of the Bordelais said, it’s important to build value throughout the chain, so that distributors and merchants can make a good margin on the wine, which helps build loyalty. “Everyone’s been talking about sharing value up the chain, but there’s an important concept of sharing value down the chain,” said another producer. “Paying the people that work in your winery more than just a living wage.”

“We’re a tiny winery, but we export to 30 countries. It means that during difficult times, we have activity.”

– Areni Member

And while diversification is important, don’t overlook the power of selling more products to fewer people. “If you’ve got 50 customers, the chances are that if you developed 10 of them, they could probably take your entire production,” said one producer.

One French producer had a different view. “We’re a tiny winery, but we export to 30 countries,” he said. “It means that during difficult times, we have activity,” in at least some markets. An increasing challenge for his winery, he said, was being able to produce enough wine because drought and water shortages were having a major impact.

Costs are increasing

Participants agreed that the costs of managing climate change are rising rapidly.

As one producer said, the wine industry is unique in the world of consumer goods, because as an agricultural product, it is subject to the whims of nature. “That requires a certain level of agility and foresight to weather the storm of production variability year after year,” she said. “Profitability does not look like profitability in a lot of industries.” Instead, financial sustainability isn’t just about making a profit, but also about being able to cover costs over an unpredictable agricultural cycle.

Unfortunately, wineries can expect even more costs in future.

‘I think visibility is careening towards the industry like a giant freight liner,” said one of the French producers, referring to upcoming ingredients labelling, as well as ever more demands for transparency around farming methods.

There was a lot more said over the session, from the frustration of dealing with financial institutions that have no understanding of the wine sector, to wry observations about billionaire owners who care more about the winery architecture than the balance sheet. The opportunity to talk about money, finance and profitability among peers was, it seemed, something that participants relished.

Pauline Vicard, CEO of Areni Global, ended the session by saying, “we don’t speak enough about money in the wine world, but there’s a lot to be gained in sharing.” 

After all, as everyone agreed, if a winery doesn’t work financially, it has no future.

Portugal’s cork forests are major carbon sinks – but they face threats from climate change

By Davide Raffaele Lobina

Published on 28/04/2024 – 07:00

For each kilogram of cork produced, the trees can capture 73 kg of CO2, according to Portugal’s leading cork company.

Portugal is the world’s leading producer of cork. In 2023, cork exports achieved a record value of €1.2 billion, 75 percent of which came from cork stoppers, according to APCOR, the Portuguese association of cork producers.

A worker in one of Amorim cork factories in Santa Maria de Lamas checks the quality of natural cork stoppers.Davide Raffaele Lobina

The Amorim Group, Portugal’s leading cork company, claims that around one out of three wine bottles worldwide is sealed with a cork stopper made in Portugal

About 20 years ago, significant concerns emerged that cork might lose market share to synthetic alternatives, which were less expensive and carried no risk of spoiling the wine with ‘cork taint’.

However, the industry has succeeded in removing those substances that could harm the wine, including the molecule trichloroanisole (TCA), responsible for the cork taint. Nowadays, cork has a competitive edge over materials like plastic due to its sustainable properties.

The only forestry industry where the trees are not cut

Piles of cork bark in one of Amorim’s cork factories in Santa Maria de Lamas.Davide Raffaele Lobina

“A cork stopper captures almost 400g of CO2. A single cork can offset all the emissions from producing a glass bottle,” says António Rios de Amorim, CEO of Amorim. He anticipates an expansion in wine production, which underscores the need to plant more cork oaks – a move that would also aid Portugal’s efforts to combat climate change.

Cork is harvested by removing the bark from cork oaks every nine years, after which it slowly regenerates. “We are the only forestry industry where the trees are not cut. Cork oaks, which can live for 150 to 200 years, are a carbon sink. For each kilogram of cork produced, the tree captures 73 kg of CO2,” explains António.

Cork oaks are a carbon sink. For each kilogram of cork produced, the tree captures 73 kg of CO2

António Rios Amorim, CEO of Amorim

Portugal has over 720,000 hectares of cork oaks, which represent a third of the existing forests of this species native to the Mediterranean region. Spain has a high share of forests, while the rest are found in Northern African countries, France and Italy. 

Cork oak trees in Coruche, Portugal’s cork capital.Davide Raffaele Lobina

Cork forests are threatened by global warming

However, rising temperatures threaten the survival of these trees.

Careful forest management mitigates the risk of wildfires. “These agroforestry systems are managed in such a way that, with small shrubs and patchy areas where herbs and shrubs grow alongside livestock, the amount of vegetation that can burn is significantly reduced,” explains Conceição de Silva, secretary general of the Union of Mediterranean Forests, which represents forest landowners in Portugal.

But extreme heat brings other dangers too.

“Plagues and diseases benefit from climate change. They are fighting back very strongly, and there are currently no solutions to diminish these threats. In some areas, trees are dying.”

Some landowners have implemented irrigation systems in new plantations to cope with prolonged summer droughts. “Due to climate change, you might plant 400 trees per hectare, and after the first summer, if you don’t irrigate, you might only have 100 trees or fewer left,” she concludes.

Here’s What Goes Into Making Jay-Z’s $1,800 Champagne

We put Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs Assemblage No. 4 under the microsope.

By Mike Desimone And Jeff Jenssen 23/04/2024

In our quest to locate the most exclusive and exciting wines for our readers, we usually ask the question, “How many bottles of this were made?” Often, we get a general response based on an annual average, although many Champagne houses simply respond, “We do not wish to communicate our quantities.” As far as we’re concerned, that’s pretty much like pleading the Fifth on the witness stand; yes, you’re not incriminating yourself, but anyone paying attention knows you’re probably guilty of something. In the case of some Champagne houses, that something is making a whole lot of bottles—millions of them—while creating an illusion of rarity.

We received the exact opposite reply regarding Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs Assemblage No. 4. Yasmin Allen, the company’s president and CEO, told us only 7,328 bottles would be released of this Pinot Noir offering. It’s good to know that with a sticker price of around $1,800, it’s highly limited, but it still makes one wonder what’s so exceptional about it.

Known by its nickname, Ace of Spades, for its distinctive and decorative metallic packaging, Armand de Brignac is owned by Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy and Jay-Z and is produced by Champagne Cattier. Each bottle of Assemblage No. 4 is numbered; a small plate on the back reads “Assemblage Four, [X,XXX]/7,328, Disgorged: 20 April, 2023.” Prior to disgorgement, it spent seven years in the bottle on lees after primary fermentation mostly in stainless steel with a small amount in concrete. That’s the longest of the house’s Champagnes spent on the lees, but Allen says the winemaking team tasted along the way and would have disgorged earlier than planned if they’d felt the time was right.

Chef de cave, Alexandre Cattier, says the wine is sourced from some of the best Premier and Grand Cru Pinot Noir–producing villages in the Champagne region, including Chigny-les-Roses, Verzenay, Rilly-la-Montagne, Verzy, Ludes, Mailly-Champagne, and Ville-sur-Arce in the Aube département. This is considered a multi-vintage expression, using wine from a consecutive trio of vintages—2013, 2014, and 2015—to create an “intense and rich” blend. Seventy percent of the offering is from 2015 (hailed as one of the finest vintages in recent memory), with 15 percent each from the other two years.

This precisely crafted Champagne uses only the tête de cuvée juice, a highly selective extraction process. As Allen points out, “the winemakers solely take the first and freshest portion of the gentle cuvée grape press,” which assures that the finished wine will be the highest quality.  Armand de Brignac used grapes from various sites and three different vintages so the final product would reflect the house signature style. This is the fourth release in a series that began with Assemblage No. 1. “Testing different levels of intensity of aromas with the balance of red and dark fruits has been a guiding principle between the Blanc de Noirs that followed,” Allen explains.

The CEO recommends allowing the Assemblage No. 4 to linger in your glass for a while, telling us, “Your palette will go on a journey, evolving from one incredible aroma to the next as the wine warms in your glass where it will open up to an extraordinary length.” We found it to have a gorgeous bouquet of raspberry and Mission fig with hints of river rock; as it opened, notes of toasted almond and just-baked brioche became noticeable. With striking acidity and a vein of minerality, it has luscious nectarine, passion fruit, candied orange peel, and red plum flavors with touches of beeswax and a whiff of baking spices on the enduring finish. We enjoyed our bottle with a roast chicken rubbed with butter and herbes de Provence and savored the final, extremely rare sip with a bit of Stilton. Unfortunately, the pairing possibilities are not infinite with this release; there are only 7,327 more ways to enjoy yours.

Bordeaux and Provence hit back on ‘swimming pool rosé’ reports

26 April 2024 By James Evison -Drinks Business

National newspapers have claimed there is a “battle” between two French regions about “swimming pool rosé” but is it all a storm in a teacup (or wine glass)? db spoke to representatives from both regions to find out.

According to newspaper reports this week, including articles in The Times and The Guardian, there is a debate between Bordeaux and Provence about the standard and style of rosé wine.

Citing a so-called “rosé aristocracy”, The Times’ leading wine and food critics claimed discord, claiming “purists” in Provence are “attacking” Bordeaux for turning to making lighter rosé, following a drop in traditional red wine sales by 36% in the past decade in the latter region.

Claiming there is a “fad” for pale pink wines, and a so-called “swimming pool plonk” rosé, often associated with celebrity endorsements, The Times argued that Provence and Bordeaux have now become battlegrounds over the style and quality of the wine.

Democratise

But representatives from the regions have quashed the debate, with a representative for Provence, saying there is “no need” to pit so-called pool rosés against terroir rosés.

It pushed back on the idea of the region being an “elite”, and instead said it was helping to democratise the category.

Brice Eymard, MD of the CIVP (Conseil Interprofessional des Vins de Provence)  said it had been making rosé wines for decades, and admitted its “unique heritage and unparalleled expertise” were deep-rooted in “everything our region does” and enabled it “to create a style of rosé that has become a benchmark”.

But he also said that “Provence rosé is perfect for casual moments such drinks with friends by the pool or alongside simple meals” and also “our gastronomic wines, which have spent time in wooden barrels, stand up perfectly alongside more complex dishes and formal occasions”.

He crucially added: “There’s no need to pit pool rosés against terroir rosés.

“Provence’s winegrowers have the know-how to produce a wide variety of rosés that will appeal to wine lovers and younger consumers alike. We’re proud to be playing our part in helping to democratise wine, rather than sticking to an elitist approach.”

He did concede also that “certain technical elements” could be emulated in other regions, but the history and “specificity of the terroirs cannot”, which made Vins de Provence rosé wines “unique and inimitable”.

Diversity

Caroline Vigneron, marketing manager at the CIVB (Conseil Interprofessionel du Vin de Bordeaux) told db that making rosé in Bordeaux wasn’t a new phenomenon, but was also keen to point out the category was about diversity.

She said that Bordeaux’s rosé wines now represent a “considerable portion” of all the wine produced in Bordeaux: 12.8 million bottles last year.

“Our rosé wines are light, lively, fruity and elegant, offering characteristics that are unique to our region,” she said.

“Making rosé in Bordeaux isn’t new – in fact, we have been making it here since the 18th century,” she continued, “but a new generation of winemakers with new ideas, energy and enthusiasm, have developed it considerably over the last 10 years and our wines are increasingly being recognised on the international stage for their quality.”

Vigneron was also keen to stress that another Bordeaux-specific wine was making a comeback, which contradicts the idea that they were producing just light pink wines; the dark-pink Clairet.

She also highlighted the diversity of rosé, as opposed to those seeking to make an argument there is a conflict about style.

“Clairet, a regional gem once considered to be the precursor of Bordeaux wine, is making a comeback too. Intense pink in colour, with light tannins and the freshness of a rosé, it’s made to be enjoyed chilled; it’s a great example of how diverse the rosé category has become.”

Lightness of being

Interestingly, db editor-in-chief Patrick Schmitt MW and fellow judges noted last year at the Global Rosé Masters that there wasn’t a direct relationship between colour and flavour, as the articles appear to suggest.

The judges discovered that it was notable that some of the rosé wines had almost no fruit flavours at all, especially among the higher price bands.

Discussing a set of “pretty bony and etiolated liquids” in the £30-£50 category, one of the judges, Jonathan Pedley MW, said: “It is curious to reflect on just how much the consumer is prepared to pay for austerity.”

Schmitt added: “In other words, some of the priciest rosés were the lightest, and it seems as though in certain cases, the more you pay, the less you get – both in terms of colour and flavour.”

1 December 2023

Researchers have taught an algorithm to ‘taste’

Incorporating human tastes into artificial intelligence makes it easier for wine buyers thirsting for the right wine. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen’s Pioneer Centre for AI have shown that AI can accurately predict individual wine preferences. The researchers expect that nourishing machines with human sensory experiences will continue to grow.

For non-connoisseurs, picking out a bottle of wine can be challenging when scanning an array of unfamiliar labels on the shop shelf. What does it taste like? What was the last one I bought that tasted so good?

Here, wine apps like Vivino, Hello Vino, Wine Searcher and a host of others can help. Apps like these let wine buyers scan bottle labels and get information about a particular wine and read the reviews of others. These apps build upon artificially intelligent algorithms.

Now, scientists from the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), the University of Copenhagen and Caltech have shown that you can add a new parameter to the algorithms that makes it easier to find a precise match for your own taste buds: Namely, people’s impressions of flavour.

“We have demonstrated that, by feeding an algorithm with data consisting of people’s flavour impressions, the algorithm can make more accurate predictions of what kind of wine we individually prefer,” says Thoranna Bender, a graduate student at DTU who conducted the study under the auspices of the Pioneer Centre for AI at the University of Copenhagen.

More accurate predictions of people’s favourite wines

The researchers held wine tastings during which 256 participants were asked to arrange shot-sized cups of different wines on a piece of A3 paper based upon which wines they thought tasted most similarly. The greater the distance between the cups, the greater the difference in their flavour. The method is widely used in consumer tests. The researchers then digitized the points on the sheets of paper by photographing them.

The data collected from the wine tastings was then combined with hundreds of thousands of wine labels and user reviews provided to the researchers by Vivino, a global wine app and marketplace. Next, the researchers developed an algorithm based on the enormous data set.

“The dimension of flavour that we created in the model provides us with information about which wines are similar in taste and which are not. So, for example, I can stand with my favourite bottle of wine and say: I would like to know which wine is most similar to it in taste – or both in taste and price,” says Thoranna Bender. 

The flavour impressions were collected through a series of wine-tasting events. The wines were anonymized and each wine was labelled with a color and a number. Each participant was given a combination of wines to taste.  

Professor and co-author Serge Belongie from the Department of Computer Science, who heads the Pioneer Centre for AI at the University of Copenhagen, adds:

“We can see that when the algorithm combines the data from wine labels and reviews with the data from the wine tastings, it makes more accurate predictions of people’s wine preferences than when it only uses the traditional types of data in the form of images and text. So, teaching machines to use human sensory experiences results in better algorithms that benefit the user.”

Can also be used for beer and coffee

According to Serge Belongie, there is a growing trend in machine learning of using so-called multimodal data, which usually consists of a combination of images, text and sound. Using taste or other sensory inputs as data sources is entirely new. And it has great potential – e.g., in the food sector. Belongie states: 

“Understanding taste is a key aspect of food science and essential for achieving healthy, sustainable food production. But the use of AI in this context remains very much in its infancy. This project shows the power of using human-based inputs in artificial intelligence, and I predict that the results will spur more research at the intersection of food science and AI.”

Thoranna Bender points out that the researchers’ method can easily be transferred to other types of food and drink as well:

“We’ve chosen wine as a case, but the same method can just as well be applied to beer and coffee. For example, the approach can be used to recommend products and perhaps even food recipes to people. And if we can better understand the taste similarities in food, we can also use it in the healthcare sector to put together meals that meet with the tastes and nutritional needs of patients. It might even be used to develop foods tailored to different taste profiles.”

The researchers have published their data on an open server and can be used for free.

“We hope that someone out there will want to build upon our data. I’ve already fielded requests from people who have additional data that they would like to include in our dataset. I think that’s really cool,” concludes Thoranna Bender.

Steady wine sales not enough to relieve oversupply pressure

Wine Titles Media -November 21st, 2023

Total sales of Australian wine were 11 per cent above production in 2022–23 after the lowest wine production in 15 years but were not enough to substantially reduce pressure on the historically high national wine inventory levels, according to Wine Australia’s Wine Production, Sales and Inventory Report 2023 released today.

Australian wine production was 964 million litres, the lowest since 2006–07 and the first time since then that it has fallen below 1 billion litres. Meanwhile sales of Australian wine remained steady at 1.07 billion litres, with a small increase in domestic sales countering a similar-sized decline in exports.

Wine Australia Manager, Market Insights Peter Bailey said it was pleasing that sales had held steady this year despite difficult global conditions affecting all markets.

“This is the first time in five years that total sales volume has remained steady on a year-on-year basis,” said Bailey. “Sales of Australian wine have been decreasing in our domestic market and in export markets over the past five years, due to declining wine consumption combined with increased cost-of-living pressures and the effects of the significant duties on Australian wine to China.”

As a result of sales exceeding production, the national wine inventory decreased by 4% to an estimated 2.2 billion litres on 30 June 2023. The reduction was driven by red wine stocks, which were down by 10% compared with the previous year.

Bailey noted that while this shift had reduced some pressure, inventory levels remain very high, particularly for red wine.

“This is a move in the right direction for the sector as it responds to the challenge of rebalancing supply and demand,” Bailey said. “However, it is only a small reduction after the lowest vintage in 20 years, and stocks of red wine remain at historically high levels.”

The national stock-to-sales ratio – a measure of how many years’ worth of sales is held in inventory – was 2.57 for reds, still 45% above the 10-year average despite decreasing by 7% due to the decrease in inventory.

“The long-term average stock-to-sales ratio for red wine is around 1.8, which equates to having just under two years’ worth of sales in stock. The current level is over two-and-a-half years’ worth, which is very high in historical terms,” Bailey explained. “If the ratio is too high, it puts pressure on winery inventories and reduces demand and price for wine grapes.”

The situation for whites is better than for reds, with the stock-to-sales ratio at 1.49 – much closer to its long-term average of 1.35. It decreased by 2% in 2022–23 due to the slight increase in sales (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1: Stock-to-sales ratio (SSR) for Australian wine by colour over time

Source: Wine Australia Production, Sales and Inventory surveys and ABS

 While supply and demand for white varieties appear to be more balanced, Bailey noted that sales of white wine in 2022–23 were 463 million litres, which is considerably lower than the 10-year average production of 579 million litres.

“Rebalancing supply and demand remains a real challenge for the sector,” Bailey said. “Our situation reflects the global environment, as world wine production has exceeded consumption every year for at least the past 10 years. This prolonged oversupply, which is the equivalent each year of more than twice Australia’s production, has put increasing pressure on all wine-producing countries.”

The Wine Production, Sales and Inventory Report 2023 can be downloaded here

Updated price indicators for winegrape growers

The new Grape Price Indicators dashboard, developed by Wine Australia with funding from the Australian Government through its Improving Market Transparency in Perishable Agricultural Goods Industries program and launched last month, has been updated today with the latest figures from the Production, Sales and Inventory Report 2023, as well as global figures from the OIV World Wine Production Outlook November 2023 and the Ciatti Global Market Report for November.

The Grape Price Indicators dashboard can be found on the Wine Australia website. 

Scott Henry: A Second Chance for Troublesome Vines

By Kathleen Willcox- November 20, 2023

Wine styles and production methods fall in and out of fashion: just consider the ubiquity, disappearance and newly resurrected practices of aging wine in amphora or using wild yeast, and the “new” phenomenon of rosé. Farming practices, too, are cyclical. See: cover crops, field blends and high-density plantings. 

But there’s one trellising system that’s managed to evade ever trending, while still being widely beloved by admirers in specific circumstances. The Scott Henry system is seen by advocates as a secret weapon that delivers more — and vastly superior — fruit. Read on for insight into the training system that is at once beloved and disregarded.   

History & How it Works 

Pioneering winemaker Calvin Scott Henry III, better known as Scott, invented the trellis system in 1982. (Henry recently passed away, on Oct. 26, 2023, at the age of 86.) An engineer by training, he noticed that the vineyards he planted in Oregon’s rain-soaked Umpqua Valley were producing rot-prone grapes. He opted to add a second wire below the solo wire he had to split the cluster, essentially doubling the amount of fruit he could grow, and exposing it to more air and sunshine in the process. 

Henry was not the only person to create a divided canopy system — others include the Smart Dyson and Geneva Double Curtain. 

“The Scott Henry trellis system lets you grow twice as many shoots per linear foot when compared to VSP [the Vertical Shoot Positioning trellis system],” says Raptor Ridge Winery’s winemaker and founder Scott Shull, who produces around 9,000 cases of wine annually and uses Scott Henry for about half of the fruit he grows. “The system has gotten a bad reputation for producing low quality fruit because it’s been used just to boost production in sites that don’t really need it.”

Evan Bellinger, director of vineyard operations at Results Partners, which manages more than 200 vineyards in Oregon, deploys Scott Henry frequently — but he agrees it’s not appropriate for every site. 

“It doesn’t work across the board,” Bellinger says. “It’s a useful tool in the right scenario and can create more balanced fruit — and more of it. If a site has high vigor, and the vines need to dilute its energy into more growing points, more leaves, more fruit, then Scott Henry helps create balance.”

Addresses Vigor, Brings Fruit Back Into Balance 

The key, advocates agree, is the right scenario and site. 

“In 2004, I noticed that my old vine Pinot Noir wasn’t setting properly,” says Bill Holloran, co-founder of Holloran Vineyard Wines in Dundee, Ore.  “Old vines can sometimes get too much nitrogen in certain sites. We started experimenting with Scott Henry in 2014, despite the bad reputation it had, and we found it quickly brought our fruit back into balance.”

Of the three sites he farms — two in Dundee Hills and one in Eola-Amity Hills — two of the Dundee sites are partially converted to the Scott Henry system. About 40 percent of his Dundee acreage, he estimates, is devoted to Scott Henry. 

Shull says Scott Henry has been a game-changer for the Grüner Veltliner he farms in Newberg, Ore. 

“Grüner is so vigorous,” he explains. “The Scott Henry system helps absorb some of that energy and vigor. Grüner can set at our site to about 16 tons per acre, which is insane. We thin it out and drop fruit, and even with that we get six tons per acre in the end. We’re left with much better fruit.”

He also deploys Scott Henry for the fruit he uses with his method champenoise sparkling wine program. “We’ve found it delivers great acidity, and allows us to harvest our Pinot Noir at a lower alcohol with subtle flavor development,” Shull explains. 

Dave Weimann, vineyard manager at Sheldrake Point Winery in New York’s Finger Lakes region, also uses Scott Henry when vines get “too big for their britches.”

He says, “I became aware of the Scott Henry system in 1992 when I was working at Cornell [University]. But we didn’t start using it until 2002, after the vines we planted in 1997 became way too vigorous. We’ve found it works really well with Riesling, allowing us to find that sweet spot.”

About 14 of the 57 acres he has planted are on VSP, with the rest on Scott Henry. 

Others, like Michael Moore, a Willamette Valley grower who uses Scott Henry at his vineyards Griffin Creek and Crater View, says it’s ideal for sites with “high water tables, too much vigor and too much green growth.”

Better Fruit, Lower Disease Pressure 

Deploying Scott Henry in vigorous sites, especially ones that get a lot of rain or are planted above at a watery site, creates more acid-driven fruit with complex profiles, proponents say. 

“We grow Pinot Noir for rosé at Corral Creek Vineyard using a Scott Henry trellising system,” says Chehalem Winery’s winemaker, Katie Santora. “We find that it helps us create acid-driven rosés with light and elegant aromatics. We always think of it as our lightest and prettiest wine.”

Moore says that Scott Henry is woefully misunderstood. 

“It’s been misused for high-production wines,” Moore says. “But in the right circumstances, it produces much better fruit than you’d get using another trellis system. We have found that it lets us delay ripening, especially in warmer sites, which gives us better fruit in the end.”

At Lakewood Vineyards in the Finger Lakes, vineyard manager David Stamp says that, in addition to creating better fruit and “carrying a larger crop load, Scott Henry has less disease pressure due to a naturally thinner canopy. 

Weimann concurs that there’s “a lot less rot with Scott Henry.”

Bottom Line

Installing Scott Henry on a classic VSP trellis system costs next to nothing. “You just have to add a wire to your existing VSP system,” Weimann says. “But there is additional labor. You have to flick the shoots on the lower wire down right as they bloom, because they’re going to want to grow up. And if you don’t get them ahead of time, or you do it too soon, you create a lot of hand labor for yourself because you’re going to have to go in and force them down.”

That labor costs more, but he and others say the additional labor is more than balanced out by the superior, more bountiful fruit. 

Scott Henry, clearly, is not a trellis system that will be effective in every situation. But in high-vigor, water-logged sites or in cases where growers aren’t finding the acid and delicate aromas they want, Scott Henry is worth considering, especially for certain varieties.

“If someone is growing Pinot Gris, they need the added yield of Scott Henry to cover their farming costs,” Bellinger says. “Chardonnay on Scott Henry can be both bountiful and high quality. Pinot Noir can do well on Scott Henry, particularly for sparkling wine or rosé, but there is a greater risk of overcropping Pinot Noir for still wine.”

At Warrior’s Rest vineyard, Bellinger says they thinned the upper canopy aggressively, but thinned the lower canopy lightly. 

“We then picked the bottom canopy of the Pinot Noir for sparkling wine and rosé,” Bellinger explains. “So that fruit came off early, and for the rest of the season we had two canopies ripening just one fruit zone of crop. It was a neat way to get the benefits of the higher yields without compromising quality.”

And as far as Shull is concerned, we may see a lot more of it.

“Climate change is here,” Shull says. “With consistently warmer vintages, we’re considering converting more of our Pinot Noir to Scott Henry to slow down ripening and produce physiologically balanced fruit without putting on too much sugar. We’ll see.”

 “No more excuses” women in wine demand action on gender equality

  • November 21st, 2023

“The lack of action from our wine industry leaders in combatting the significant gender inequality in our industry is both woeful and inexcusable,” said Australian Women in Wine (AWIW) founder and chair Jane Thomson OAM at the inaugural Australian Women in Wine 2023 National Symposium on Friday.

A sell-out crowd of 140 women in wine gathered at the event in Sydney, where they proposed a list of the urgent steps needed to combat gender injustices in the Australian wine industry.

Delegates discussed, put forward and then voted on the top actions they want to see taken immediately. The results are, in order of priority:

  1. An industry-wide strategy with accountability measures in place
  2. Funding for AWIW and/or a full-time diversity, equality and inclusion position
  3. Mentoring program available in every wine region 

“We have now pulled together a list of demands directly from some of Australian wine’s brightest talent. The women in our Australian wine community have spoken – there will be no more excuses,” said Thomson.

In the Australian wine industry, the needle has been “painfully slow” to move on gender equality, says Thomson. In fact, on some key measures the industry has actually gone backwards in recent years. According to the ATO’s latest published figures, between 2013 – 2014 and 2020 – 2021 the gender pay gap for Australian winemakers increased by 100%, going from $7000 to $14,000 per year. For viticulturists and growers it’s even worse, with the gap at $18,500.

Men and women graduate from oenology degrees in almost equal numbers here in Australia, however the latest ABS statistics show that female participation in winemaking overall is still stuck at 17%.

On Friday, an impressive line-up of thought leaders from both within and outside the wine industry offered their perspectives at the symposium, focusing on the theme ‘Leadership & Ambition: Exploring the challenges women face pursuing a career in the Australian wine industry and how to advance them to positions of power for the betterment of the industry.’

They included performer and journalist Wendy Harmer, who shared some of her strategies for success from her male-dominated career; Amanda Gome, who hosted an interactive workshop to help women counter everyday sexism; Nicky Grandorge who shared how Women in Wine NZ is closing the gender gap over the ditch; Professor Chris Wallace from the University of Canberra who spoke about women, leadership and ambition; Corrina Davison, managing director for American Express Australia and New Zealand, who offered her advice on how to advocate for and be an ally for women in achieving equal access and opportunity; and Kate Goodman, Katherine Brown and Gabrielle Castelluccio who shared their experiences from the wine industry coalface.

A who’s who of Australian wine from around the country were in attendance, including key decision makers and CEOs, growers, suppliers, viticulturists, winemakers, sales and marketing professionals, cellar door staff and beyond. They included representatives from Treasury Wine Estates, Accolade, Pernod Ricard Winemakers, Endeavour Group, Brown Family Wine Group, Brokenwood Wines, Pinnacle Drinks, Langton’s and more.

Attendees were buoyed by the event, with Helen Strachan, Legal, Public Affairs, Communications and S&R Director at Pernod Ricard Winemakers, sharing her appreciation for the event on LinkedIn.

“I have left with inspiration, connection, optimism & gratitude for all who are challenging the status quo & wanting to make the future of Australian wine bright,” said Strachan.

Alcohol duty hike results in Treasury ‘losing cash’

Drinks Business- 20 November 2023 By James Evison

The negative impact on sales from alcohol duty hikes means the Treasury is losing out on tax revenue, according to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA). 

The WSTA has therefore said that the Chancellor should freeze alcohol duty at the Autumn Statement this Wednesday, following data revealing the worrying decline in sales.

It made the comments as the UK government is expected to announce a rise in duty — the second in only four months — at this week’s Autumn Statement, which would raise the overall increase in wine duty to 30% since the summer. The rise is likely to be line with the retail price index, which currently stands at 8.9%.

But according to the WTSA’s unpublished figures, off-trade sales showed a drop of around 20% in spirits in the last 28 days, and a double digit drop for wine in the same period.

The large downturn follows the largest hike in duty rates in almost 50 years in August, with UK firms “extremely concerned”, according to the WSTA, that another increase in the Autumn Statement would threaten the survival of some businesses.

Despite an overall drop in inflation reported last week, wine and spirits have seen nearly a triple digit increase in the last three months – remaining in double digits – as the alcohol sector diverges from the rest of the economy in terms of inflation levels.

Counterproductive

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, said that duty rises are “counterproductive”, as they reduce sales, and result in less revenue to the Treasury.

Beale said consumers were “still in the grip of a cost of living crisis”, and “cannot afford to keep stretching their budgets”.

He said: “We are asking the Chancellor to stop, think and freeze alcohol duty. In August the Treasury introduced the largest alcohol tax hike for almost 50 years adding over 10% duty increase for spirits and over 20% increase for 4 out of every 5 wines of all wine sold in the UK. A further rise is damaging to British businesses, will pile on more misery for consumers resulting in less cash for the Exchequer.”

Assault

The current situation, including failed deposit return schemes, was described as an “assault on the industry for no net-gain” by the Wine Society.

Steve Finlan, chief executive of the Wine Society, said: “Jeremy Hunt said this was a budget for growth, instead his actions will cause misery for consumers, wine retailers and wine producers and threaten the survival of many businesses at a time when consumer confidence is slowly returning.

“One tax rise in a year is alarming, two is unacceptable. We ask the Government to reconsider.”

Talking about the inflationary pressures as a producer, Simon Doyle, general manager of Concha y Toro Europe, said that duty was “disproportionately” impacting shoppers at the lower end of the market.

Doyle said: Wine has been an affordable luxury for many – but those couple of glasses at the end of a working week will become even more expensive. 61% of a bottle of wine bought at £6 already goes to the government in tax.”

Not contributing

The managing director of Brighton Gin, Kathy Caton, agreed with Doyle and the WSTA, stating that the August duke hike has had “a very clear and damaging effect on sales.”

Caton said: “There have already been some very high-profile closures of distilleries within our sector and anecdotally I know of many others who are considering shutting operations – if distilleries go bust, they won’t be contributing anything at all through taxes and duty.”

New research suggests that it might be quercetin, not sulfites or biogenic amines, that are responsible for the headaches some people experience after drinking red wine

November 20, 2023 jamiegoode

Some people suffer from headaches after drinking even a small amount of red wine. Usually for these people, the response is unique to red wine, and isn’t caused by other drinks. No one yet knows exactly what causes this.

But in a study published today in Scientific Reports by a group at the University of California, Davis, there’s evidence that the culprit might be quercetin, a flavanol found naturally in red wines. This may be interfering with the proper metabolism of alcohol, leading to symptoms including headache. [Interestingly, this research was Crowdfunded.]

Quercetin is found in a range of fruits and vegetables, including grapes, and acts as an antioxidant, so it can be beneficial. It’s only in the presence of alcohol that it can be problematic.

‘When it gets in your bloodstream, your body converts it to a different form called quercetin glucuronide,’ says Andrew Waterhouse, one of the authors of this study. ‘In that form, it blocks the metabolism of alcohol.’

Alcohol is broken down to acetaldehyde, which is toxic and inflammatory. It’s then further broken down by acetaldehyde dehydrogenase, which is the enzyme that quercetin glucuronide can inhibit. The continued presence of acetaldehyde in the bloodstream can cause flushing reactions, headaches and nausea. A proportion of east Asian people (around 40%) have a version of this enzyme that doesn’t work well, and this allows acetaldehyde to build up in their system.

‘Quercetin is produced by the grapes in response to sunlight,’ says Waterhouse. ‘If you grow grapes with the clusters exposed, such as they do in the Napa Valley for their cabernets, you get much higher levels of quercetin. In some cases, it can be four to five times higher.’ Levels of quercetin can also differ depending on winemaking techniques.

I asked Waterhouse: people have blamed sulfites, and then biogenic amines for adverse reactions to wine – could it be that quercetin is to blame and that we shouldn’t be too worried about these two?

‘Mark Daeschel at Oregon State told me that the levels of biogenic amines are just too low,’ he responded. ‘As for sulfites, they may be indirectly related, but that is yet another research project. But sulfites themselves are not a culprit, or consumers of colorful dried fruit would be reporting headaches.’ 

So if quercetin is a problem, do you think people affected should avoid all red wines? Or is there a way to find safer ones? ‘I am hopeful that in the future there will be a way to alert consumers to high levels. But the first step is to check our hypothesis with a human study.’  This is planned, and it will be interesting to see the results.